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Syntrophic microbial communities on straw as biofilm carrier increase the methane yield of a biowaste-digesting biogas reactor

1 Institute of Microbiology and Biotechnology, Ulm University, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, D-89081 Ulm, Germany;
2 Institute of Systematic Botany and Ecology, Ulm University, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, D-89081 Ulm, Germany;
3 Present address: Renergon GmbH, Kalmenbrunnenstraße 2/1, D-89129 Langenau, Germany

Special Issues: Biofilm engineering - Harnessing the power of beneficial biofilms

Biogas from biowaste can be an important source of renewable energy, but the fermentation process of low-structure waste is often unstable. The present study uses a full-scale biogas reactor to test the hypothesis that straw as an additional biofilm carrier will increase methane yield; and this effect is mirrored in a specific microbial community attached to the straw. Better reactor performance after addition of straw, at simultaneously higher organic loading rate and specific methane yield confirmed the hypothesis. The microbial communities on straw as a biofilm carrier and of the liquid reactor content were investigated using 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing by means of 454 pyrosequencing technology. The results revealed high diversity of the bacterial communities in the liquid reactor content as well as the biofilms on the straw. The most abundant archaea in all samples belonged to the genera Methanoculleus and Methanosarcina. Addition of straw resulted in a significantly different microbial community attached to the biofilm carrier. The bacterium Candidatus Cloacamonas acidaminovorans and methanogenic archaea of the genus Methanoculleus dominated the biofilm on straw. Syntrophic interactions between the hydrogenotrophic Methanoculleus sp. and members of the hydrogen-producing bacterial community within biofilms may explain the improved methane yield. Thus, straw addition can be used to improve and to stabilize the anaerobic process in substrates lacking biofilm-supporting structures.
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